Ciabatta Problems

Hello from a new Bee HQ – the Bees have moved west a couple of counties and we have emerged from under the packing boxes (some of us more successfully than others).

The Aga we have inherited is proving a challenge, both from a culinary point of view (no, there is no alternative oven) as well as a menopausal one. My kitchen is H.O.T. and I am sweltering.

Here is a picture showing the direct opposite of the look I am currently achieving.

Gorgeous Aga woman

My bestie told me once about “Ciabatta problems”. If you google those 2 words, you will find answers to actual ciabatta problems, courtesy of Jamie Oliver et al. I was given this alternative take:

Imagine a family of four around the kitchen table of an evening (Aga blasting away in the background perhaps – menopausal mother in her bikini) ~

Mother: “Your father and I have terribly bad news children.”

Father: “It is truly upsetting and you will need to brace yourselves. We are here to support you through this difficult time.”

Child One: “Is it Granny?”

Child Two (now crying): “Is it the guinea pig?”

Mother: “Much worse. We are out of ciabatta.”

Ciabatta problems can loom large to those in privileged situations; I found myself worrying this morning that my two chooks, Alabama and Georgia, who have had to remain in a chicken hotel for a few weeks while I had a new secure fence put up here for them, have become broody. They are happiest sitting idly in their nesting box, presumably dreaming about babies. They did not take kindly to me unceremoniously dumping them out on the garden and I received a nasty peck from Alabama as a thank you. But this is a ciabatta problem, as is the question of when to start digging out the parterre, or quite where one of the antique iron planters has been put by the removal men. The truth is, we have arrived in our dream house, in an exquisite part of the British countryside, with enough garden to have chooks, broody or not. The vast majority of life’s problems, including having an Aga (which I am calling The Kraken), are very small indeed.

In other news, the Bees are also going to have 2 new Maine Coon kittens to add to the family. Huck and Hero arrive here next week, aged about 3 months. They are brother and sister; no doubt getting them settled into their new home will not be without some challenges but they too will be ciabatta problems.

Annie Bee with Alabama

Have a super Monday

Annie Bee x

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Insomnia: The Upside

For a number of reasons I am having a hugely stressful time at the moment and one of the symptoms is lack of sleep. Some days I feel very woolly headed as a result – forgetful, absent, confused and worried it might be dementia. Stress coupled with insomnia is not pretty.

Insomnia

So what keeps me from going round the twist in bed at night when I am wide awake, ruminating the list of problems and possible solutions, trying breathing exercises (I have had some joy with the 4-7-8 breathing technique which is definitely worth a try if you are also struggling to get a good night’s sleep) and maintaining the view that the worst possible thing to do is check the clock – ” 3.22am!!! I will be a wreck tomorrow”?

Insomnia words

I listen to the radio. Both my mother and father had radios on hand for their wakefulness, each with his and hers earphones. I listen to a mixture of stations and learn a lot along the way. This week I learnt about a very interesting Tasmanian-born New Zealand woman, Ettie Rout who was a very important campaigner on sexually transmitted diseases during World War I.

Coincidentally I listened to an entirely different programme about the NZ practice of using Rangatahi Maori Youth Courts to keep the numbers of Maori adolescents out of the prison system. Maoris count for 15% of the total NZ population but for 50% of the prison population. A similar scheme is being tried in Australia (NSW I think) for their indigenous youth and the results seem promising so far.

I also listened to a very interesting programme about the Battle of Verdun, which, I am ashamed to say I had little or no knowledge of (the Somme Offensive is perhaps more well-remembered here in the UK due to the loss of 57000 British lives in the first DAY). Verdun is still a complete wasteland: the soil is so full of bodies, arsenic and unexploded shells that nothing grows there to this day.

I listen to plenty of uplifting programmes as well. One of my favourites is Doctor Karl on Radio 5 Live’s Up All Night show. There is nothing that man doesn’t know about science – 99% of it goes straight over my head, but I love listening nevertheless.

Listening to the radio in bed

Forgive me if any of the information above is slightly shonky: sometimes it is difficult to remember exact details of things I have heard at 4.58am (“no point in going back to sleep now, I will be up in 2 hours”).

Hope you are sleeping better than me!

Annie Bee x

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Gardening For Health

Hello all

After a month or so away from my blog, here I am, in the middle of winter, writing about gardening! Mind you, with El Niño giving us the mildest of autumns in the UK (not to mention very wet), the gardening calendar is slightly confused. Here in the ‘burbs, we have blossom out, sodden lawns and a smattering of snow. Nature will cope, although there are bound to be knock-on effects during the next few seasons.

I have gardened here for 15 years; when we moved in, it was, in effect, a blank slate. A few shrubs, a couple of roses, a grotty path leading to a half-collapsed shed, and rat-infested compost heaps, allowed us to landscape and plant (with help of course) the garden we wanted. I have learnt many things over the years:

  1. Looking from the house and wondering where to start to get a grip on problems is not going to solve anything: get your boots and gardening gloves on, grab some tools and get to work.
  2. If you do need help, ask. Don’t let the garden go: it will not sort itself out. As Rudyard Kipling said, “Gardens are not made by sitting in the shade”.
  3. Don’t keep plants which are wrong for the conditions or are in the wrong place. Move them, give them away or compost them. A garden is a dynamic beast.
  4. First and foremost, take care of the soil.
  5. If you have the space and can afford it, get a greenhouse. Growing from seed (which can of course be done in the house) takes gardening to a whole new level.

” A garden is a grand teacher. It teaches patience and careful watchfulness; it teaches industry and thrift; above all it teaches entire trust” ~ Gertrude Jekyll.

It is good for the body and soul. Therapeutic gardening is an old concept; hospitals have a long history of providing gardens for patients and in recent times there has been research to show that horticulture offers many benefits. One of the best known gardening charities in the UK is Thrive, which started in 1978. They use gardening to bring about positive changes in the lives of people living with disabilities or ill health, or who are isolated, disadvantaged or vulnerable. Benefits include

  • Better physical health through exercise and learning how to use or strengthen muscles to improve mobility
  • Improved mental health through a sense of purpose and achievement
  • The opportunity to connect with others – reducing feelings of isolation or exclusion
  • Acquiring new skills to improve the chances of finding employment
  • Just feeling better for being outside, in touch with nature and in the ‘great outdoors’

Who needs a gym membership when there is a garden to get stuck into? If you don’t have a garden: volunteer in one, or help a neighbour, look into guerrilla gardening, read some gardening books, dream about spring sowing.

Ultimate greenhouse

On what has been billed ‘Blue Monday’ (apparently today is the most depressing day of the year) you could do worse than to get out into a garden, be mindful of the beauty, listen to the birds and get moving.

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Annie Bee x

The Side-Plate Diet: New Research On Portion Sizes

Hello friends

As many of you know, I am a keen proponent of losing weight, or keeping weight off, by controlling your portion sizes. You eat normally (though healthily) but use smaller plates to impose control over your food intake. This has worked extraordinarily well for me. I started doing The Side Plate Diet about eleven months ago and it has transformed by body and my relationship to eating.

The BMJ this week reports that

~ Theresa Marteau from the University of Cambridge and colleagues recently published a Cochrane review that found the “most conclusive evidence to date” that people consume more food or drinks from larger size portions or packages, and when using larger items of tableware.

Additionally, they say that reducing portion sizes may mean going back to the noticeably smaller tableware which was being used in the 1950s, and suggest that one change which could make a difference would be,

 ~ Designing tableware to encourage smaller mouthfuls, such as, shallow plates, straight sided glasses, cutlery.

My views and information on plate sizes, if you want to read more, are here. And if you are worried about your weight and would like to try The Side Plate Diet, use the search bar at the right of the blog, and have a look at this.

This new research has some great suggestions and is taking a very sensible and longer-term view about reducing over-consumption and preventing obesity. The most recent statistics showing the problem in the UK of childhood obesity are, frankly, alarming.

The possibility of a new sugar-tax being implemented is also currently at the top of the agenda here, but we have a long way to go.

side plate diet

Using smaller plates is a very easy approach to dieting. It works.

Please share the buzz ~

Annie Bee x

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Brilliant Idea: Free Fruit Bonanza

Sometimes you see a new idea which is so brainy, it makes your eyes water.

In the UK, Woolworths is sadly a thing of the past. Many of us still fondly remember Ladybird kids clothes and  Pick’n’Mix. It is a thriving supermarket chain in other countries though, and has recently successfully trialled offering a free piece of fruit to all kids entering all of its (961) Australian stores, from a complimentary basket of apples, pears, bananas and mandarins. The idea was originally put to the test in their New Zealand shops (which trade as Countdown) and seems to be popular. Woolies expect to be giving away about one million pieces of fruit a year and assures consumers that the cost of fruit will not rise to compensate.

If you have ever had a child in tow who could name 107 places they’d rather be than in a supermarket with Mummy (unless she is going to provide biscuits/sweets/chocolate/magazine and toys from the shelves at will) the offer of a piece of fruit sounds to me like a welcome initiative. Anything to help keep mum sane and Little Jonnie happy.  And of course this option is healthy, one of your 5-a-day, and it will presumably encourage the habit of healthy snacking when sitting in the trolley. Better than a packet of Wotsits.

Tesco has already trialled it here in the UK at one, forward-thinking store in Lincolnshire and have decided to roll it out to 15 Glasgow branches. Hopefully it will  prove popular enough to go nationwide.

It won’t end  the sound of the screaming kid in the trolley ~ and lord knows we have all been there. It might help though and I imagine it could be an incentive for parents to shop at that supermarket rather than another. Let’s see.

supermarket children

My own trips to the supermarket are a bit like Groundhog Day but without the humour. Or romance. I might not be screaming out loud  but inside my head there is often an ear-piercing silent yell. Perhaps the free piece of fruit will eventually be offered not just kids but exasperated shoppers in their 50s. We can but hope. Great if you are on a diet. Blood sugar dropped? Have an apple. Feeling rough after a long night at the bar? Help yourself to a banana. Bored with the duties of being the Fridge Fairy? Here’s a pear.

I think it could work.

Annie Bee x

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What’s In A Name?

I am a part-time music teacher and one of the things I do with my groups of 2-3-4 year olds is clap the rhythms of their names. Some are very interesting indeed: “Maximus Henry Wittlestone” takes some beating ~ and may say something about the area in which I live, not to mention that he goes to a private nursery where snack time involves blueberries and chia seeds rather than marmite sandwiches. For every Maximus, there are plenty of Harrys, Olivers, Scarletts and Poppys. When we do this exercise, I often point out that my mono-syllabic name is very boring indeed to clap. I love my name though and wonder what it would be like to dislike a name for life ~ it must be awful.

One problem I do have with my moniker is that I am called by my middle name. This has led to a lifetime of doctors and dentists calling me by my first name; I drew the line at my first wedding when the registrar referred to me incorrectly. I let him continue for a while before an aunt of mine tapped me on the shoulder and suggested I correct him.

Both my parents were called by their middle names, so you’d have thought they might have thought twice about landing me with the same problem. Mind you, to further confuse things, my mother was too nervous on her first day at boarding school to correct the teacher reading out the register, so everyone who knew Mum after she was 11 call her one thing and her family call her another. Some people are deeply suspicious that I chose my second name, and hate my first, but the reality is it was my parents who welcomed me into this confusing -enough -already world, that called me by my middle name.

My Name Is

When I started this blog I was very amused to see that there is another “Annie Bee” who describes herself thus,

   I used to be a professional disciplinarian and I spent much of my time spanking, caning and tawsing naughty boy’s bottoms. Those days are over, but I still regularly thrash my partner…..

She writes books as well as a blog, and it delights me to wonder whether people might be mixing us up at the google search stage. Those wanting a few pointers on corporal punishment might be surprised to find me ranting about the menopause or discussing the importance of portion control when dieting.

So if you have come to this page expecting instructions on using ‘hellstraps’, you are forgiven  the confusion.

Have a super weekend

Annie Bee x

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Surprising Finds #6

Not far from where I live, in the neighbouring county of Bedfordshire, there is a very pretty church on a winding back-road, which is notorious for speeding fines, if little else.

Officially known as The former Holy Trinity Church, it is in the small hamlet of East Hyde.
Holy Trinity Church East Hyde
It was designed by Benjamin Ferrey in a Neo-Norman style and built between 1840 and 1841. It has two large Norman piers flanking the entrance, with open staircases with Norman colonettes turning left and right, culminating on the left in the single asymmetrically placed turret. It is a Grade II Listed Building. It was declared closed for public worship by the Diocese of St Albans in 2008, but is currently in use as a Greek Orthodox Church dedicated to St Charalambos.
Holy Trinity Church East Hyde
Just north of the church, through the graveyard, is an incredibly impressive mausoleum which is a listed building in its own right. It is the tomb of the family of Julius Wernher whose country pile, Luton Hoo (now a Hotel) is a mile or two up the road. German-born, at the time of his death in 1912 he  was one of the richest men in the United Kingdom with a fortune of £12 million ~ much of it made from diamond mines, and much of it spent during his lifetime, on art.
mausoleum 1
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East Hyde Holy Trinity Church mausoleum
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mausoleum @ Holy Trinity Church East Hyde
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It is often worth stopping at small churches such as this one. They can be little gems. On a wet, muddy and windy day in November, it was well worth a visit.
Annie Bee x
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